tv Presidential Press Coverage CSPAN September 10, 2016 5:00pm-5:53pm EDT
the logistical tail on this whole thing is in enormous. this is something they would never, ever get to do otherwise, a chance to play. and second of all, they saw this as a validation of not only there are warm, but also of them as americans. the african-americans for whom jazz was kind of sidelined as lowbrow culture. and in the state department comes in and says we want you to be our ambassadors in the world and they say, finally, someone get it, someone appreciates jazz being a great music and art form and they appreciate me, and african-american for being capable of being that face of the united states and the world. what's the entire lecture tonight at 8 p.m. and midnight eastern on c-span three's american history tv. -- watch the entire lecture tonight at 8 p.m. and midnight
eastern. presidentss covered h wn, ford, reagan, george bush, and clinton as a white house correspondent. next he speaks about covering those presidents. this is about an hour. three decades, gibbons covered six presidencies from jimmy carter and the iran hostage crisis to clinton's impeachment, first with upi and then with reuters. he served as a panelist in the 1992 presidential debate between ush, clinton, george h.w. b
and ross perot. he also served as president of the television correspondents association. as anned a nonprofit editor, shaping coverage of state policy and fiscal and economic issues, health care, demographics, and the business of government. as a fellowserved at harvard's kennedy school of government. i know you will agree with me that he is uniquely qualified to talk with us today about why journalism is important. these welcome -- please join me in welcoming gene gibbons. [applause] much,thank you very kristin. boy, what a couple tough nuts to follow.
demanded a change in schedule. i am doing cleanup. to be herelighted today. i'm also a bit dismayed, quite rightly, to look out at this audience and see so much evidence of just how old i have become. thatsobering to realize most of the people in this room were not even born yet when marlon fitzwater was the white house press secretary and i was a member of the white house press corps. what that means is all of my good stories are completely outdated. you what it was like way back when i was covering the white house would be like somebody telling me what it was polk.o cover james k. interesting, but not very relevant. i covered six presidents --
three full-time as a full-fledged member of the white house press corps -- presidents reagan -- 4 -- presidents carter, reagan, george h.w. bu sh, and president clinton. i filled in covering richard nixon and gerald ford. when someone at the white house got sick, i would go over and take their place or if the team at the white house needed extra help, i would pitch in. white housel-time correspondent, it was for presidents of reagan, bush, and clinton. that president george bush deserves more credit than he got at the time for peerless leadership. two examples. one, the war in iraq, the war after iraq invaded kuwait. we tend to forget now, but at that time, we were very heavily
oil.dent on arab if saddam hussein had been able to choke off that oil, that would have had a profound unitedc effect on the states. george bush patiently put together an international coalition, used diplomacy until there was no room for diplomacy, and then went into iraq, kuwait, the theater of operations with overwhelming force. he also had an axis -- an exit strategy. it was textbook presidential leadership. that was followed by the collapse of the soviet union. never before in history has a great empire disintegrated without bloodshed, and yet president bush led us through that crisis as well without a single drop of blood being shed. you cover the white house, you get to travel a lot, as
david valdes mentioned. it was good. i got to go to places that most people only dream of. on the other hand, i was away from my family quite a bit. i missed a lot of ballgames. i missed a lot of dance recitals. just recently, my son chad, who is now 39 years old, told me whenever i went on a trip, he became very afraid and had trouble sleeping. he had seen, when he was four or five years old, the television coverage of the assassination attempt on president reagan, and as a little boy, he was convinced that was the environment i worked in. every time i went away, he was afraid i was not coming home. i had no idea. i was stunned when he recently told me. memorable trip was with president reagan for the
anniversary of the d-day invasion. i have personal connections without event. my first uncle landed on all my beach in the bloodiest beach and that invasion. he won the distinguished service cross, second only to the medal of honor for bravery. remarkable,lf was but what was extraordinary was he was a noncombatant. very seldom do noncombatants get medals for bravery. he never talked about what he did, but it had to be extraordinary. i have been back three times, with president clinton for the 50th anniversary and twice on my own. if you get a chance, is really worth going to see, because our nation and the allies did great things there. ,t's a very moving experience
and i think it would be for you as well. another memorable trip was president bush's trip to the area before the outbreak of the war. was interesting to visit the troops and visualize what they were going through, but it also had a rather comic ending. from czechoslovakia to germany and then to saudi arabia, we for saudi had an add-on in geneva, switzerland. scheduledastily meeting between president bush the president of syria.
this includes the wire service reporters, newspaper, magazine, television correspondents, and a crew from the networks. the positions rotate except for the wire services, who are permanent members of the pool. when air force one lands, whatever networks are not in the pool that day join the motorcade so they can get their own footage if something happens during the motorcade. the swiss police had not been briefed on what was about to happen, so when air force one rolled to a stop, they started approaching the aircraft and the swiss police, not having been briefed and thinking, you know, this might be some kind of security breach motioned to stop. and the white house press corps can sometimes -- and very often,
but once in a while -- they just ignored the swiss police. one of the police produced a weapon and brandished it. held it up in the air. president bush met with president assad of syria. i was sitting with the other members of the pool, and the word when around that the swiss police that surrounded air force were not going to let the president aboard. that was ridiculous on its face. but we were tired. it was the end of a very long trip. it put an enormous chip on everybody's shoulder. as we got to the plane, there was a heavier police presence. they had not surrounded the airplane.
all of a sudden, there was a malay, during which, the chief there was a melee, during which the chief protocol officer, he got roughed up. they announced that there was incident and we were filing a diplomatic protest. that is new. so, the wire service reporters used to take turns calling in the story, and it was my turn. so, if your in on the telephone with the three wire services in washington. it is a push to talk telephone. the connection is not very good. and there is turbulence.
i finished and my hand was all cramped and one of the other news organizations said, we did not get a word of that. can you repeat it all? i am honored to be here at franklin pierce university. this is a fitting tribute to a man i deeply respect and admire. marlon was the gold standard. what was marlon the very best? because she truly believed and still believes the public has a right to know what our government was up to.
not to say that he told me and my colleagues everything he knew or even most of what he knew. that's not the role of a presidential spokesman. if there is a sensitive operation underway, it's not going to be very successful if you tell them all beforehand. t becausehe very best when he told me and my colleagues something it was factual. it was the unvarnished truth. spin thet try to information. public actual information. these days, it seems like a normal situation. here, spokes people for our would-be leaders and
hoarding and distorting facts these days. it reminds me of what used to be the punchline of a joke. who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes? point ofis goes to the the subject of my talk here today. important andwas i'm going to talk about that briefly, but i will leave most of the time for your questions. why is journalism important? journalism is absolutely vital. it is essential. it is the lifeblood of democracy. the government of our wonderful country is us. , not theoliticians bureaucrats. it is asked. at the bureaucrats represent us and they serve us.
but the bureaucrats carry out the policies we decide. the first words of the u.s. constitution. we the people. government ofof , for the people. it's true. we often forget that. unless we the people have good, solid, factual information, we cannot make sound decisions about what the government should do or not do. that is where journalism has lessons. but journalism is important, not just because of government and politics. it is important in making sense of the world in which we live, good and bad. there are saints among us. after paul farmer, for example. he runs an organization called
partners and health, based in new england, in boston. he has spent his professional life ringing medical care to the poorest of the poor on this earth. we need journalists to seek out and write about and tell people about people like paul farmer. it might lead some of us to and made lead a few of us to emulate him. that is how the world becomes a better place. the dr. paul farmer's of the world are few and far between. there are a lot of people out whoe, quite frankly, exploit, forcing people to work in in human conditions. important to comfort the afflicted, as someone said is the watchword of
good learning. that can be dangerous work because the evildoers -- the evildoers of this world often have no scruples and will eliminate anyone who gets in their way. in order to inform the public, i believe we journalists must ourselves be well-informed. i think that means reading widely, knowing a great deal about american and world history, and always seeking to expand our storehouse of knowledge. clearlyit means writing . and what i'm about to say now is probably a or heresy in an age where celebrity journalism seems to be the rage, but i think a good journalist should have a passion for being anonymous. letoften journalists ourselves become part of the story instead of letting the story speak for itself. i myself became part of the story once and i hated it.
it was president clinton's first part-time -- prime time news conference. when i was getting dressed for i chose to wear an almost fluorescent mickey mouse tied. it was a horrific tide. mewife never would have let get out of the house had she seen me wearing it. president called me for question and when he saw the tie, he said, i love that tie. but the cameras on that tie. he made such a fuss, i said it if i did notard have a preamble. said, well, mr. president, that is what so many people think the white house press corps is about -- mickey mouse. i mediately knew i made a
mistake. people across the country see a reporter being a wise guy to the president of the night is eight. -- of the united states. it's not a good career move. when the news conference ended, deedee myers, the white house walking bytary came and i took the tie off and gave it to her. i said, give this to the president and tell him i did not mean any disrespect. clinton-kaine back in the press back in theton came press room 45 seconds later wearing the tie. of humor and was generally a good guy. well, i was mortified. that was not the story. , thetory was bob dole senate republican, was giving the republican response on the networks, but when clinton east room, he the
blew the opposition right off the tv tube. that was the real story. and i thought it was missed. speaking of missing the story -- or maybe over blowing it is a better way to put it -- i think too much information that the public gets these days lax perspective, because a lot of us as journalists are just not well grounded in history. to be a good journalist, you need to constantly be studying history. oh myt an awful lot of god, the terrorists will kill us all. and frightens people frightened people make bad decisions. world isis that the safer now than it has ever been in history. we live in a relatively peaceful time. i see skepticism on some of your faces. consider this.
during the six years of world 1945, 60tween 1939 and million people were killed. one person was killed every single second for six years. these are dangerous times? havell obviously and interest in journalism and communicating with the public. otherwise you would not be here. quite frankly, as marlon mentioned in his interview, it is a bad time for journalism. is expensive. and those who do it -- reuters and other organizations like that -- are having a hard time financially. it is a lot easier to make and infotainment. it makes money, but i'm afraid
that it inflames the public more than it informs the public. if you go into journalism -- i hope all of you will because i think it's a very important job and our society depends on it. don't do it for the wrong reasons. that for the same reasons i think you are probably here today, because you are in loosely curious about the world you live in. some of you, maybe all of you could do a great service to the rest of us by maintaining that curiosity, going out and learning all you can, answering the questions you have, and telling others about it. i am convinced that is the better way -- the best way to enrich all of our lives, to improve our country, and improve the world. thank you very much for your attention. [applause]
>> a recent political poll found that over 60% of white house correspondents say that they feel that daily press meeting should be overall completely. did that sense existed during your time in the white house, and why does it exist today? gene: when marlon was the white house press secretary, the daily televised. not it was a bad move. it led to a lot of posturing. instead of seeking information, reporters would try to press buttons in the newsroom or play to people on television. daily briefing was
quite useful. after that, there was a lot of i have been out of the game for too long, so i don't know how it plays on a daily basis. but the journalists that called might have it right. , you can'tt of it is depend just on the briefing to get your information about what is going on at the white house. again, i think in the television age, too often reporters tend to do that. national politics for a number of years my cover the white house. i knew people in both parties outside of the white house and i could frequently find out more about what was going on in the by calling a staffer
on the committee on the hill or talking to a member of congress -- not for any malign purpose, but because a policy might be in a formative stage. the white house was not ready to announce it yet. i wanted to find out about it before they wanted to let me know about it, so i would go elsewhere. i think often there is a tendency to almost have a theative situation between people in the press room and the press secretary, and i don't think that helps illuminate any of us. >> with your experience, how does journalism differ -- i am terribly hard of
hearing. >> [indiscernible] gene: how does journalism and politics -- >> [indiscernible] gene: oh, i see. good question. political journalism is probably the most glamorous aspect of it's not really the only aspect and often it's not the most important aspect. as i mentioned, there are a lot of things going on in this world. the world politics comes from s, which is greek for people. i think it helped all of us to understand and to work to make our lives better, knowing what is going on that's not so much in washington, as it is at the statehouse and other places.
barbara bush used to say it is what happens in your house rather midway happens in the white house. i think that is true. at their all kinds of things that people are doing that we all should know about. that's a very valuable aspect of journalism. i'm inclinedn -- to be something of a wonk, but there is a lighter side of life we should know about as well. i want to know how the red sox are doing. i don't follow the washington redskins very much, but my wife is a big auburn fan, so we have to look up those players every week. that's important, too. >> so it is important to report the facts and journalism. i was wondering how you avoided
putting your own personal bias into what you wrote and how to avoid that ourselves? gene: that's a very good question. i must say your questions are quite impressive. he was right when he said he was constantly impressed by young people. you have restored my faith with some of the questions you have had here today. there is a tendency to say, oh, the press are a bunch of left-wing liberals. not really. professional journalists do have their opinions. .ut you want to be impartial you want to tell both sides of the part -- of the story. you want to deal in facts. so, in my and have a leaning one way or another. it used to drive my wife nuts. i would never allow a political campaign sign on my lawn or a bumper sticker on my car.
i think you have to be straight down the middle when you're covering politics and you have to tell both sides and you have to be quite vigorous in doing that. just almost comes naturally and if you have good editors and you turn in a story that is incomplete that doesn't have -- you make a few more phone calls, make a few more facts, give me both sides. it just doesn't happen. and ther one side network is mostly right. you have a network that is mostly left. and quite frankly, to my mind, there's not a whole lot of fact to either one. there's a lot of people who give their opinions. and i will say, opinions are like family's. everyone has one. what we need are facts. is the role of a
a truthrnalist, to be teller. to go out, digg up the facts, wherever they lay and report the story. does that answer your question? >> what do you think are some of the best sources that young people our age can stay informed about politics and possibly about journalism or other current topics? try and cast as wide a net as you can. watch fox news, yes, but also read the newnd york times and the wall street journal and the washington post. that is quite difficult. there only 24 hours in every day and we don't have a lot of time to consume news given everything else that is going on in our
lives but to me, it's only human nature to want to reinforce your home believes. and someone much wiser than i said the market of true intelligence is to entertain two things at the same time. i think the trick is to inform yourself as completely as you .an >> today, the world has never been safer than before. the media perhaps has never been more dangerous, often emphasizing. outould i ask you to step from behind the microphone. i'm getting some feedback.
the media can be a very angerous occupation, covering war zone. there you are, exposed to every hazard. it can be very dangerous to do a kind of investigative journalism that frankly we need a lot more of, to seek out situation that aren't right. and there are a lot of them. people does exist in this world. evil does exist in this world. throughout our history, to have in the the muckrakers beginning of the 20th century exposed horrific conditions to
the meatpacking plants where traditions were unsafe, the food was unsafe. more recently, one example was the reporting on some of the sex scandals in the catholic church. that was important. it should not have happened but it did happen. have badn't always motives but something bad happens. it's just human nature to not want to talk about it, to cover it up. when someone in your family gets
a citation for speeding, you aren't going to go out and tell your neighbors. it is embarrassing. we find situations that are law in we report them in china spotlight on them and if everything works the way you hope it works, corrective action is taken. but that can be dangerous because if the information is embarrassing or illegal, the people who are perpetrating don't want that publicized and some of them have very few scruples and more than one reporter has died because somebody didn't like what they were reporting.
>> what advice do you have high school students considering, pursuing journalism as a career. >> i am really impressed with the questions here. journalism courses, learning the , butnics of the profession not stopping there. studying history, taking a political science ofrse to learn how the art politics. so maybebiology course you would have some ground to report on medical developments. ours endlessly expanding
storehouse of knowledge. and we arebrothers very fortunate in that my parents encouraged us to go to the library, to read and never put any restrictions on any information we could get. as my wife will attest, i am constantly stuck in a book because i love to learn about new things. and i like to ask questions. curiosity is important. you will not get rich in you ilism but i will tell have found it enormously satisfying. it has made my life much richer and i think a lot of the people in journalism would feel the same way.
>> a lot of people recently have expressed distrust in the media and i was wondering what advice he would give to turn listen order to restore this trust in howpublic and how much -- important you think it is that it is restored. humility would serve a lot of journalists well. we are trying to inform the public we are there to get the facts and present them to people who cannot be there but one of my pet peeves when i was covering the white house is that the television cameras would be placed in an area where it would get the best shot. that is understandable. behind thes eating television did he get a good line of vision. and the tv cameraman had to be standing there behind the
tripods, taking pictures but there was no reason for people like us to be standing up blocking the way of someone sitting behind. i used to always think about that, trying to get out of the way to let someone having a to let thoserience people have that experience and a used to bug me some of my colleagues were callous to the fact for most people, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event whereas for us, it was rather routine. impartiality.he making sure that you get both sides of the story and being informed. i can't tell you how many times i came close to shorting the television set because the question has no perspective, no background.
if the journalist is themselves getting information for the first time, that is certainly not helping the rest of us. >> hello. you mentioned earlier how you shouldn't put yourself in the story and how you shouldn't be using bias. i was wondering your opinion on tabloids and if you consider those people as journalists. how you felt about tabloid magazines and if you consider those people journalists. >> no, i don't, frankly. journalism has existed for as long as the has been journalism. amendment andst there is freedom of the press of thosely, i see some supermarket tabloids, hillary
clinton's alien baby. it is not the kind of journalism i was proud of, not something i would want to be connected with an frankly, i felt it rather tarnished what i was trying to do. >> thank you. >> you spoke of your experience with travel. how do you think that impacted your career and do you think it would be a wise choice for journalism students to study abroad? >> the travel is unreal. leftve you an example, we knoxville, tennessee at 4:00 on a friday afternoon and we flew to italy, hungary, bosnia, and
croatia and we were back at that air force days at 11:00 the next evening. that is the kind of traveling you sometimes do. you go a lot of places but don't see a lot of things. that was a trip with president clinton to bosnia when we had peacekeeping troops there. it was just the reporters on air force one. air force one doesn't have to worry about fuel economy so you are flying at the speed of sound. most, six hours. that is normally the presidential aircraft. plane way, whatever
far more classified information than ever saw as an army officer. sometimes, that's the nature of the beast. excited don't get too about this e-mail controversy. there is a lot of classified information floating around washington. there is a lotat of overclassification. there are situations that need to be kept safe.
there used to be a rule where you couldn't report troop movements. i was horrified to hear one of my colleagues say a hypothetical .uestion if you american army m -- troop was about to be ambushed, would you tell them about if you remain and report the story? was he remained silent and reported the story. -- is not i think the role of the journalists. we are first and foremost members of this society. be -- serveto
society well. i think both can be done. i think we are human beings first. >> time for one last question. ways oflked about avoiding being bias but also about how this industry has evolved into making time of the essence. do you think the quality of this story is somehow undermined by the need to get it out faster and how would you advise young journalists growing up in this keeping thed with quality of the story while also getting it out as quickly as possible? >> i believe the cuban missile crisis happened today.
i think it that happened today, i think the 24/7 new cycle puts enormous pressure on .olicymakers to respond before they have all the facts and before they can make a decent judgment. there is what is called the fog of war. in a battle situation, most of the time, the additional information commanders get is wrong. the same is true in journalism. we saw two vivid examples recently. one was a situation in dallas where the policeman were anushed and the other was incident that happened about a week or so later in baton rouge. in both cases, the initial report was that there were several gunmen. that was wrong. there was only one gun in in both cases.
one perspective sitting there a few feet away from the candidates. when you are watching these things, think of that and beember pictures can deceiving sometimes. thank you very much. [applause] thank you for joining us and explaining so well-liked journalism is important. thank you very much. [applause]
>> the smithsonian national museum opened its doors to the public for the first time saturday, september 24. american history tv will be live from the national mall with sights and sounds leading up to -- with of the 10:00 a.m. opening ceremony. this is american history tv. this year, c-span is touring